Amazing Grace is an amazing way of telling the rest of the world what it actually means to live in poverty. I am always complaining about what I need and do not have just like a lot of other people. After reading this book, I will be more likely to be gracious for what I do have and can do without having. This book not only told me about the people in the South Bronx’s lives, but it also abled me to visualize them. Jonathan Kozol has an extraordinary way of illustrating this story. The world knows of all of the problems that are out there such as guns, poverty, drugs, and violence. This book elaborates these issues and will hopefully open up society’s eyes to this horrible situation.
Amazing Grace deals with many social problems in the neighborhoods of the South Bronx. Jonathan Kozol spent many long, heart-throbbing hours with the underprivileged people that live there. Any problem that one can think of, the people in these areas have to face on a daily basis. The people that live there are mainly blacks and Hispanics.
The first issue that I want to address is how society lumps all of these people together in the one place. More than 3,000 homeless families have been relocated by the city to this neighborhood (11). A question that Jonathan Kozol is asked many times is, “Why do you want to put so many people with small children in a place with so much sickness?” (11)
Most of these people would like to have assistance, but are not given the chance. One woman stated (about charities), “If they want to help the poor, they
don’t need to have a party first. They could skip the party and just send the money up to feed the children who are hungry. Who is this charity for? In a way, it’s for themselves so they won’t feel ashamed going to church to pray on Christmas Eve. Maybe they think this way they won’t end up in Hell” (44). The welfare system is also working against these people. They are treated very poorly by social workers and welfare agents. These workers talk down to the poor and are very rude (41). The welfare system is totally sloppy. They take away people’s checks without any reason or for the wrong reasons. One woman was sent a letter stating that her check was being cut in half because her son had gotten married. The truth is, her son was not married and the welfare number and the total budget were both wrong too (204). It seems to be a hassle for these people to even live.
Another horrible issue that these people face is drugs. There are drug dealers and users on every corner, in the parks, in the housing, and in the schoolyards. The drugs range from marijuana to heroin to coke to crack (120). Small children see their parents shooting up and some even assist them with their addictions. Other children are learning to be “pushers” of these drugs. We know that clinics give out free birth control and condoms, but in the Bronx, they give out free needles weekly (12). Mothers stand in line with their children
waiting to trade in their old needles for clean ones (12). These parents could be standing in a food pantry line, but instead, they are teaching their children about what they have to look forward to. It is a demeaning thought, is it not? A
druglord, George Calderon, was cherished and even has his own memorial (60). How can people look up to a druglord?
The drug usage in the South Bronx also leads to prostitution. Most of the prostitutes are black and some are Hispanic (23). The age of these ladies ranges from 15 to 40 (23). These women hang out in clusters of 12 or more, some being completely naked (67). Many of their customers are truckers. The women will climb in, do what they have to do, get their money, leave to get a fix, and then go back to the streets. Jonathan asked a woman, “How many are addicted?” She said, “All of them are. you wouldn’t do that for three dollars otherwise “ (67). Along with the free needles, condoms are fortunately given out too (12).
However, no matter how many condoms are being given out, AIDS still exists very heavily in the South Bronx. Virtually every child there knows someone, a relative or neighbor, who has died of AIDS or is dying of AIDS. Rates of pediatric AIDS are very high (4). By the Spring of 1993, 1,381 women in the area and 3,428 men had been diagnosed with HIV. However, thousands more are probably carriers and do not know because they do not have a personal physician (194).
Killing people seems to be a very common pastime in the Bronx. Not a day had gone by that a gunshot was not heard. Children interviewed by Kozol
tell him about the people they have seen killed and they show no remorse. There are murders in the schoolyards, the parks, the projects, and in the streets.
The elder people have a fear of going outside, while the children see murder as a common and normal action. Unfortunately, these innocent children have been victims of the crossfires (5). Even the police are afraid to go to apartments when they are called because they fear that they will be shot (53).
There are only a few hospitals that the people in the Bronx are “allowed” to attend. These hospitals are referred to as “cesspools” and many have lost accreditation (15). One woman with AIDS had to wait for two days before she was admitted. She said, “…waiting in the waiting room… with all the other people who were waiting. Sick children vomiting up their food. Men with gunshot wounds. People with AIDS. Old people coughing up their blood” (16). Waste, among other things, are found in the floors (165). In one hospital, people of color are segregated on to other floors that have “overcrowded rooms” with “peeling paint” and “showers in the hallways” (176). A black woman snuck up to the “white” floor to see what she was missing, “had plants…. had pictures…. It was brighter. I can’t believe it’s the same hospital” (177). Even the women in prisons do not want to go to these hospitals because they feel that they would receive better care in prison than on the outside (146). A nun who works with female inmates wonders, “Is that what we do? Incarcerate people so they can get the services they need?” (147)
Not only do the people there have to worry about getting in to these hospitals, but they also have to think about the things that leave them. A waste
incinerator was put in the Bronx by the city and against parents’ pleas. It burns so-called “red-bag products” such as amputated limbs and fetal tissue, bedding, bandages, and syringes that are transported there from 14 New York City hospitals (7). A child refers to the incinerator as a “body burner” and tells of the sour smell that it produces (7). His mother said, “The waste incinerator is just one more lovely way of showing their (the city) affection” (10).
Many people from the Bronx have been in or to prison at Riker’s Island — “a 415 acre Alcatraz in the East River” where, says the Times, “92 percent of the captive population is black or Hispanic” — was erected largely on compacted trash and stands less than 1000 yards across the water from the Hunt’s Point Sewage Treatment Plant (142). The city spends $58,000 yearly on each adult inmate, $70,000 on each juvenile — nearly ten times what it spends to educate a child in public schools (142). One woman said, “The cost is justified in terms that go beyond financial calculations. Without this island, the attractive lives some of us lead in the nice section of New York would simply not be possible. If you want to get your outcasts out of sight, first you need a ghetto and then you need a prison to take pressure off the ghetto” (142). Only 23,000 black men
earned degrees from colleges or universities in the U.S. in 1990. In the same year, 2.3 million black men and black juveniles passed through the nation’s jail and prison systems (144).
The schooling in the South Bronx is awful. The schools are rundown, roach infested, and contain lead in the walls (155). Very few teachers are even
certified. In some schools, classes were taking place in settings like stair landings, bathrooms, and coat closets (155). Many children who attend these schools also suffer emotional and physical attrition. New York supposedly does not have the money for better schools for the poor children, yet they spent $150 million on Stuyvesant school, which contains mostly white kids (153). The children of the South Bronx have such low self-esteems, that when asked what he wanted to be, the smartest child in the class said a sanitation worker.
The housing in the South Bronx, which two thirds of them are owned by the City of New York, are squalid. The houses are freezing in the winter (4). Most people pray that they wake up the next morning. In humid Summer weather, roaches crawl on virtually every surface of the houses. Rats, bigger than cats, emerge from holes in bedroom walls, terrorizing infants in their cribs (5). Most of these buildings are old, deteriorating, and hazardous. There are bullet holes in elevators in apartment buildings and addicts shooting up in the hallways (51). An eight year old boy, who leaned up against an elevator door, died when it opened and he fell. A woman tells Kozol that, “The city is blaming
the family for letting an eight year old go in the hallway. But they got to go out somewhere, since the real outside is just too dangerous” (99). There was also a
reduction in the number of housing inspectors, who have the right to refuse to enter a building where their lives may be endangered, and may simply write “No access to building” on an inspection sheet (108). “It means that more kids are
goin’ to die. I just wish that when the paper talks about these “cuts”, they’d put some pictures in of all the children who got burned in fires or got killed in accidents, so that folks would understand what it’s about,” said one tenant (108). Could that little boy’s life been saved?
The one thing that grabbed my attention the most in this book was the children. They stand on those streets everyday going to school or playing and knowing that at any minute they could be shot and killed. It blows my mind that they know this and can actually comprehend it. They are so innocent and happy. They are only kids, yet they seem to be 30 years old. They have had to grow up so fast. It is unfair that their childhood has been stripped away because of meaningless acts of adults. They are so generous, too. They only eat at the mercy of perish, yet one starving boy gave half of his sandwich to a stray dog (85). One child prays, “God, don’t punish me because I’m black” (69). What kind of society are we?
Throughout the entire book, the people always refer to church or God. They hold very strong beliefs and hope that God will save them from the horrible
world that they live in. The children go to churches to play and for comfort. The older people go there to pray. An evangelist would sometimes go to the park to preach and the drugdealers there would even be quiet and listen (59). Religion
seems to be the only thing that these people can have that no one can take from them. I think this makes most of them stronger.
To answer the required questions, the only cultures addressed were poor blacks and Hispanics. They did not fit into social changes in America. While the rest of the world is advancing and evolving, the people in the South Bronx are at a standstill. They want help, but society will not put forth the effort. Instead, we try to ignore our problems. We try to paint a pretty picture, just like New York City did with its mural in buildings to make them look “sweeter” (31).
It seems like the situations discussed in this book should have been going on 100 years ago and not today. The segregation and prejudices are revolting to me. The poor are treated so badly. I do not know whether their color had anything to do with the way people treated them or not. However, I am white and I have never been so disrespected as these people were. Also, what kind of society are we that gives out needles to addicts? To me, that is saying “Go ahead. Drugs are okay”.
Many sociologists believe that being poor is hereditary. I disagree. I think that society makes people poor. Maybe they think if they clump all of theses people together, they will kill each other and the world will be a better place. I
believe that when society opens up their eyes and faces reality, then, maybe, it will be a better world.
This book taught me that people do not always choose where they want to live or be raised. It taught me to be thankful or a warm house, clothes, an
education, and for a foot in the right path. I think it is amazing that these people have such strong faith. From now on, I will not wonder why or how these people
live that way, but, instead, why doesn’t someone help them. They are no less of human beings because they are poor or of color. Many of them have bigger hearts and more ambition than most Americans will ever have.